With large tax incentives on the horizon, Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease said that a unanimous accelerated merger of school boards and budgets under Act 46 is the “primary goal.” At the Act 46 study committee’s December 17 meeting, members wondered what could occur if one or more districts within the union did not vote for the accelerated process.
Board members specifically questioned whether Waterbury and Duxbury districts, which will most likely constitute one vote representing half of the WWSU’s population, will vote to proceed. Harwood Union representative Dale Smeltzer said, “We need to be respectful of the fact that some schools might not be able to retain their small schools grant,” and may, therefore, vote against the acceleration.
Tax incentives for Waterbury and Duxbury may not be as significant as for other districts, Scheffert Nease explained, but Duxbury would lose about $130,000 and, one board member commented, “That’s huge.”
Fayston representative Doug Mosle added that future costs will be shifted to those districts that don’t merge and “nobody knows how much that is.”
Each district will be affected differently in a variety of circumstances arising from the vote, which will occur in late May or early June. “It’s almost like an à la carte menu,” Scheffert Nease said.
If districts of Waitsfield, Moretown and Fayston vote to participate in an accelerated merger —and the vote is planned to take place in May or June of 2016 — they will lose the first year of tax incentives but nothing more, Scheffert Nease explained. Her comment referred to a situation where not all schools in the supervisory union vote to participate in the accelerated merger.
They will retain their small school grants and waivers for declining enrollment, cost containment provisions will be waived and they could enjoy several years of tax incentives beginning in the second year.
Board members also discussed public perceptions of the merger. “People feel like they’re getting fed all this good news about Act 46 and they’re skeptical about it.” If the committee decided to put forth information that is solely in favor of the merger, Mosle explained, “We will have a credibility issue.”
In the process of sorting through these questions and more, committee members are working to clarify the extremely complex nature of the law. Gilman said, “If we come away with a governing structure that’s more complicated than the one we started with, we have failed —period.”